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Afghanistan Gets New Roadmap for Self-reliance

Two major highlights emerged from this week's International Donors' Conference in Kabul. The first - a 2014 timeline set by President Karzai for an Afghan takeover of its own security from international forces. And the second - the donors' decision to channel 50 percent of their foreign aid through the Karzai government. As VOA's Ravi Khanna reports, prominent Washington analysts say the decisions present both perils and possibilities.

Against the background of the donor's meeting in Kabul, US-led NATO forces continue their crackdown on the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan - the success or failure of which will determine the future of the Afghan strategy.

Here, in southern Kandahar province, US troops stage a mortar attack on a Taliban hideout in the Arghandab valley.
The valley is a major transit route for Taliban fighters into Kandahar - where they launch quick bombings and retreat.

In Kabul, meanwhile, President Karzai set 2014 as a definite timeline for Afghans to take over security from the international forces.

"Our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014," said President Karzai.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the time frame will at last provide Afghans with a chance to decide their own future.

"Afghanistan will now take the lead in shaping the country's future," said Ban Ki-moon. "Afghans will set the priorities and decide which path to follow. The international community will play a supporting role."

Experts say the Afghan situation presents the United States with a case of contradictory needs. On the one hand, the US has to prove its commitment. But on the other, it must show that it has no intention to be there forever. Kurt Volker is a former US ambassador to NATO.

"This July 2011 date that President Obama had mentioned is too soon and gave people the impression that we are just about leaving, so putting something further out in the future as a horizon is important both to show the commitment and also show the desire in the long term to leave after it is successful," said Kurt Volker.

Some analysts say President Karzai's timeline also provides a basis for the international community to start scheduling its own troop withdrawal.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was the first to talk about it Wednesday, just one day after the Kabul conference.

"No timetable could be chiselled in stone, but we are absolutely determined, given how long we've been in Afghanistan - given that we are six months into an 18-month military strategy embarking on a new political strategy, that we must be out in a combat role by 2015," said Nick Clegg.

The international donors at the conference also agreed to channel at least half of their aid money directly through the Karzai government, rather than through non-government aid organizations and contractors.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said for the first time that she was encouraged by Mr. Karzai's efforts to combat corruption in his government.

But analysts like Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies remain skeptical. Cordesman says the US and its allies are equally responsible for making the corruption possible for various reasons.

"A total lack of control of auditing of the aid money, a lack of focus on effectiveness [of the aid] and Afghan needs, time and again the question is to carry out a plan that suits the prejudices and desires of the capital that's giving the aid, rather than what the Afghans need," said Anthony Cordesman.

Analysts say the results of the conference should assure the Afghan people that the US and its allies are not there to "defeat" Afghanistan, but to empower Afghanistan - to help the people gain control and eventually manage their own country. The new road map, they say, might just do that.